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Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis

Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis

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Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis

2/5 (1 evaluare)
360 pages
5 hours
Oct 4, 2016


The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating "brave new world" of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.

Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.

A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to "tear down the cannabis closet" and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.

Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed "insanity due to marijuana consumption" to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.

Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.

Oct 4, 2016

Despre autor

Joe Dolce is the former editor in chief of Details and Star magazines, and has written for many of the world’s leading publications, including the New York Times, Gourmet, and Travel + Leisure. He is the CEO and founder of Joe Dolce Communications, a presentation and media-training company based in New York City. He is not a stoner.

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Brave New Weed - Joe Dolce






New England

Want to see my new hobby?"

It was 8:17 on a crisp Sunday morning in the autumn of 2012 when my cousin awakened me with a cup of coffee and that question. He was standing over my bed, practically panting with an anticipation that made saying no impossible. Little did I know that his new hobby was about to change my life.

I sipped my coffee, pulled on my clothes, and followed him downstairs through the garage, then behind a padlocked door that led me into a foam-insulated antechamber that housed plant food, smelled like Odor-Eaters, and hummed with machine-made white noise. He flashed me a broad smile as he unlocked another door, which led me into a basement grow room and the source of the new hobby: two floor-to-ceiling Mylar bags that, when unzipped, revealed six budding female cannabis plants, all basking in the hot yellow glow of one 400-watt high-pressure sodium lightbulb. The girls oiled the air with a skunky, grassy scent, and they looked very happy—as they should be, living in a cushy, digitally controlled 68-degree climate, bathing in a steady cloud of intoxicating CO2, and guzzling the finest organic nutrients.

I was impressed by the simple technical apparatus, but I was far more impressed by the fruits of my cousin’s labor a few hours later, when I had the pleasure of sampling a strain called Super Lemon Haze. Finally, after some thirty years of smoking whatever pot came my way, I found something that seemed to complement—no, enhance—my biology. The aroma was citrusy and the taste was smooth enough. And the effect? Let’s say that my brain ticked away linearly, laterally, and happily with no soporific slouch. No paranoia. No cloudy thinking. It was energizing yet soothing at the same time, as if my body were radiating sunshine from the inside out. I need to get reacquainted with this plant, I told myself as we retired to my cousin’s man cave, where freshly harvested stalks were curing on wire hangers, and long, sugar-coated colas (the top buds of marijuana plants) were stored in Mason jars, as if on exhibit in a museum.

On a website called 420magazine.com, my cousin showed me some extremely cool electromagnified photos of mature cannabis flowers, each tiny leaf carpeted with glistening sacs filled with resins. These sacs are called trichomes, he explained, and they are equally responsible for the plant’s survival and its allure. Botanically, they produce the powerful chemicals that repel predatory insects, inhibit deadly molds, and bring humans and some animals intoxicating pleasure. In eight more weeks, the girls in his basement would mature into ladies and their sacs would be bubbling with sticky, stinky, gluey, wet resins—and that’s the moment they’d be chopped down and killed. Is it an accident that men have traditionally been the keepers of this ritual, given its unavoidable Freudian connotations?

That comment elicited little more than a shrug from my cousin. Like many growers, he was more interested in talking about plants than my snarky observations on gender stereotypes. The resinous heads of the plants, which are plump with THC, plus powerful essential oils called terpenes, flavonoids, and hundreds of other compounds, are revered by breeders, who have, in the last forty years, created the strongest strains ever known. You harvest the plants just as the trichomes start to go cloudy, my cousin explained. That’s when they’re at the height of their powers.

My cousin, who once told me I couldn’t write one word that would ever teach him anything, has never shown any propensity for higher education in the traditional sense. But he has always had a green thumb and a taste for this plant. That, plus his excessive desire for privacy and mistrust of law enforcement, has driven him to cultivate his pursuit in well-guarded secrecy. Even his family is seemingly unaware of what grows below its living room. He once broached the topic with his wife, a religious Christian, and the conversation went something like this:

I have a new hobby, dear. Do you want to hear about it?

Not really.

And that was that.

I hadn’t smoked much in the last fifteen years—as with many people in my generation, I found that weed had become too strong, too unpredictable. There were too many nights spent paranoid and unhappy, or asocial and cocooned in self-absorption, or just a blink away from sleep. If I was going to alchemize my consciousness, I wanted to go up, not down, so I moved on to other pursuits: wine, sport, meditation, yoga, single-malt scotch. But that day it struck me: If my cousin in rural New England could learn about strains, obtain the high-quality seeds and the equipment to cultivate them, and then educate himself, mainly through the Internet and in conversations with the guys who ran his local gardening store, about growing prime, organic, pesticide-free bud indoors, then a revolution of sorts had occurred in my absence. Maybe it was time I investigated more deeply.

My timing was auspicious. My great sixteen-year relationship had just ended. We had tried spackling over the problems, addressing, therapizing, ignoring them, whatever it is two people do when they sense things falling, inevitably and irretrievably, apart. We tried because we loved and respected each other, but ultimately we called it quits. It was the same with my career as a magazine editor. For years, I had been pretending to be excited by a profession that once brought me torrents of pleasure; but now it just seemed like work, with all of the drudgery and deadlines and none of the creative charge. I was, for the first time in two decades, adrift, primed for change, ready to dance, drink champagne, recharge my sex life, and reinvent the way I worked. My entire life was in need of a rethink, my vices included.

My headiest pot-smoking days had occurred in college. In the 1970s it was easy to blaze joint after joint and never become too scarily high. When I look back I wonder how it was possible to inhale that amount and still graduate from Northwestern University with a 3.5 grade point average. As it turned out, it was possible because the pot I was smoking then was baby-ass weak compared with today’s varieties. The weed I smoked in high school probably averaged 3 to 5 percent THC. By the time I hit college, highly potent sinsemilla had debuted in North America, and the average THC content doubled, then tripled. Today’s crops clock in at between 15 and 29 percent THC. That is a significant change, one brought about intentionally by growers and unintentionally by Ronald Reagan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once back in New York, I dipped further into this subject. There are hundreds of blogs and Instagram accounts authored by all types of cannabists (a more refined title than pothead or stoner, don’t you think?)—people who devote themselves to the plant and its many mysteries. Endless words are spewed on techniques of growing. Topics range from soil nutrients to the most powerful and energy-efficient lights to use indoors, from the quietest ventilation systems to the ongoing debates over the benefits of sun-grown versus indoor cultivation or soil versus hydroponic. There are sites devoted to the politics of pot, hash making, oil production, rare strains, cooking with cannabis, curing cancer with cannabis, and other obscure corners of connoisseurship. The most arcane are the real-time videos of grow rooms—cameras trained on the plants and just left to run, with no irony intended. You’d have to be really zonked to watch this, I remember thinking.

The more I explored, the more I discovered that the world of cannabis was in flux. There were new products that intrigued me: shatter, CBD, wax, the incongruously named butane honey oil. And there were hundreds of strains, some with evocative names like Tangerine Dream and Super Silver Haze, and others with scarier monikers such as AK-47 or Green Crack. I originally presumed these offerings were just new wrappings on age-old products, but that assumption too turned out to be just another indication of my ignorance. I read about medical marijuana, but initially thought it more of a rouse than a legitimate course of treatment that had been used for centuries in Asia and the Middle East. And then there was the surreal history of prohibition and the demonization of a plant. Once I learned that cannabis has accompanied man in his travels for as long as history has been recorded, I began pondering the larger purpose of such a magical, medical substance that grows in the earth. I had a lot to learn.

One truth came through loud and clear: For aficionados, pot is more than just a plant. It’s a relationship, a commitment. Certain people—I’m thinking of growers in particular—develop a passion that borders on love for their crop. They don’t simply like or revere it, as you might a rose or an heirloom tomato. They obsess over it much the way vintners fixate on their grapes. They test the soil regularly to ensure it maintains the proper pH level, so that the right minerals nourish their plants’ roots. Indoor growers monitor the air temperature and humidity levels hourly. They baby their plants, inspecting them for molds or fungi that could decimate months of hard work in just a few hours. Some consult moon cycles to determine the optimal time to plant, feed, water, and harvest, and then they debate whether it’s better to chop their plants in the morning or evening. They forgive their plants when a crop isn’t up to snuff and extol them when it delivers. It’s full-blown plantophilia.

Although I had been in close communion with this plant for decades, it struck me that I knew almost nothing about it. And I wasn’t alone. Most of my acquaintances thought they understood pot, while in fact they knew nothing about how it worked in the mind or body; others blithely dismissed it as a been-there-done-that phase of their youth. Part of me harbored that attitude because I never deemed a mere weed to be worthy of respect. Because of its prevalence, I just assumed cannabis wasn’t very interesting.

In the ensuing weeks, I continued my halting reacquaintance with the plant, coming to a new acceptance of what I could and could not do in the enhanced state. I enjoyed watching movies but couldn’t read, as my mind would wander promiscuously around the page, off the page, and into deep vortexes of thought between the first and last word of a sentence. But music . . . ahhh, music sounded richer, deeper, more textured. Food became a revelatory sensory explosion, and sex deepened to an intimate exploration of my partner’s body and, at times, soul.

In those early days of Super Lemon Haze I smoked largely alone, because, as I’ve come to realize, I was in a cannabis closet of my own making. I guarded my secret exploration for fear of being judged as a pothead, which I was not. I used occasionally and moderately in the same way I drank, and as pretentious as it might sound, I liked to think of my usage as conscious consumption. But gradually I ventured out. I went to parties and other social gatherings where I cautiously invited certain guests to join me in a puff. To my surprise, my offerings were greeted appreciatively by men and women, friends and strangers, most often on my side of the generational divide. I assumed that I would be dismissed by my peers as a middle-aged guy desperately chasing his youth, but I was wrong. These were businesspeople, journalists, lawyers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and professionals, and they were delighted to partake. Even those who weren’t interested in smoking were intrigued and full of questions. Many recounted a familiar trajectory: they had smoked in their twenties, got paranoid in their thirties, and now that their bodies were falling apart, or their kids had left home, or their material success hadn’t delivered on its promises, they were ready to take another look at this plant. Often someone would pull me aside to discuss my rekindled pursuit in detail. Was it causing any harm? Would it help for this or that pain? Was it really an aphrodisiac? Can you get me some? To my surprise, almost everyone was curious about cannabis.

One afternoon, over lunch in midtown Manhattan, I was describing this epiphany to my lawyer, one of the best and most erudite in New York City, when, in between bites of my red snapper, he stopped me. You know, Joe, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday night is to come home after dining out with my wife and go into my study. I turn on some music, turn down the lights, and smoke a joint. He never cared about single-malt scotch or potato vodka, and he finds the wine snob thing ridiculous. And, he added, the fact that some bureaucrats in Washington, DC, could dictate what substance he used to relax was one of the most flagrant overreaches of policing authority on the books. He told me of a party he had recently attended in LA. Most guests were in their sixties—and all of them were lighting joints or openly sucking on vaporizing pens, talking about strains and percentages of THC. California is like a different universe, he said. In LA, everyone is smoking or eating these candies and cookies and it has completely changed the culture.

He was, of course, correct. In 2012, before the Feds cracked down on Orange County, there were more dispensaries in Los Angeles than Starbucks franchises (but fewer than McDonald’s). If you weren’t cannabis inclined, this proliferation escaped your attention and had little impact on your life; but if you were a user, you could, with a doctor’s recommendation, walk into a dispensary and consult a budtender about which strains on offer best suited your condition. Without the stain of criminality, the dispensary system taught customers about the many varieties of cannabis and their unique properties. It was nothing short of revolutionary.

Titillated by all this fresh information, I decided to do something new and different—even if it meant reacquainting myself with something old and familiar: to submerge myself in this brave new—and yet at the same time, ancient—world. Events were unfolding at breakneck speed—the residents of Washington and Colorado voted to legalize and tax recreational cannabis. Dr. Sanjay Gupta aired his cannabis apologia, Weed, on CNN and started a national conversation about the medical relevance of the plant. The Obama administration softened its antipot rhetoric, and then–attorney general Eric Holder issued the Cole memo, indicating that the Feds would not be storming the Rockies to stop legalization from going forward. And it wasn’t only America that was changing its tune. Uruguay and Spain legalized and Jamaica followed suit. Would, as prohibitionists had claimed for almost a century, the fabric of these societies fray? Would their citizens smoke themselves into stupors and crowd into emergency rooms, or would society adapt more gracefully? What would the world look like once this plant became as accepted as beer?

Before diving in, I decided to establish some ground rules for myself: No stupid smoking myself silly. Be open about what I’m doing with everyone to help tear down the cannabis closet. Avoid politics, as laws were changing too rapidly to keep pace with. And keep my focus on the ways adults could use this plant to their benefit. For too long now, the conversation has been hijacked by those who steer it to the harmful effects of drugs on children. I don’t believe children should use substances, but experience has demonstrated that ignorance is more dangerous than intoxication and that they should be educated about the harms and benefits of alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and consciousness-altering plants.

My final determination: to see if I could harness cannabis to suit me as an engaged, responsible, and professional adult. Could certain strains or delivery methods better enhance the flow of creative ideas or intimacy in sex or empathy among friends? Could I actually take a certain dose and use it not only for play, but also for work? Could I use this weed to sprinkle a little magic onto a world that is overly reliant on data and thin on enchantment?

One day I called my cousin to thank him for launching me on this great adventure. He was already nurturing his second harvest, which he estimated would yield the equivalent of a few months’ rent for a small city apartment.

I think my wife is having a change of heart, he told me.

Why’s that?

The other day she said to me, ‘You know that hobby of yours? I hope you do it really big. I think I’d like to plan an early retirement.’

Chapter 1


New York City and Newton, Massachusetts

I had always assumed there was some risk of brain, lung, or motivational damage from smoking pot, but I also knew it was far less dangerous than any other recreational substance, and that the risks could be contained with moderate use. Changing consciousness always seems to involve some risk. Certain thinkers, like Dr. Andrew Weil, have argued that human beings have a genetic predisposition to alter our states of awareness, and that it might be evolutionarily advantageous to do so, helping mankind develop spiritually and psychically. I am familiar with that urge and have always found it a worthwhile pursuit.

But here’s what I didn’t understand: If pot is as benign as its adherents claim, and such a miraculous and versatile medicine on top of that, how did it acquire such a bad rap? Or more accurately, so many contradictory bad raps? How did it get grouped along with heroin and LSD as a schedule I narcotic, which, according to the government, means that it has no medical benefit and is potentially lethal? And exactly which problems did it cause? Did it kill brain cells, sex drive, motivation, or sperm counts? Did it lead to lung or brain cancer, sexual compulsion, cocaine addiction, violence, or insanity? Did it grow breasts in men? And if it did unleash these horrors, how did I—and most of my generation—escape them?

According to biologists, botanists, and anthropologists, the cannabis plant, a relative of hops, debuted in the Caucasus Mountains, most likely in current-day Kazakhstan (ancestral home of Borat), some ten thousand years ago. The harsh landscape and climate forced the plant to be hearty and, to a certain extent, inventive if it was to survive. It had to grow quickly, before the short summer season ended. Animals and birds loved the seeds (cannabis seeds are still allowed in bird feed, the only cannabis product to escape the US federal ban), and they gobbled them up and then pooped them out while migrating. This is one way the plant used the feet and wings of other species to proliferate.

When humans arrived, they carried seeds out of the Caucasus along the Silk Route, and this is where the first fork in the genetic river occurred. The seeds that moved east into the colder regions of the Himalayas developed into the so-called indica strains, also known as kush strains; the high they produce tends to be more physical than cerebral. It brings on sleepiness and the condition that is perfectly expressed by the term couchlock, that state of deep stoneyness in which even the thought of getting up to get a glass of water to soothe your parched throat is exhausting and thus unlikely to occur.

Indica plants are short and bushy, with leaves that are round. More crucially, this variety is very productive. Indicas flower quickly, in twelve to sixteen weeks, to contend with their short growing season.

Seeds that went west to the Middle East and Africa eventually became known as the sativa varieties. These warmer-climate plants are more gangly, at times stretching twenty feet tall. They have narrow, finger-shaped leaves and rangy buds that take longer to mature (some can take up to half a year). A sativa variety generally yields a more energetic high—I once heard it described as my mind on jazz, which pretty much nails it. They stimulate talkativeness, nervousness, and those machine-gun bursts of creative flow. These are the strains I prefer.

It may sound a bit mad to call cannabis inventive or intelligent, but ethnobotanists agree that this plant has astutely inveigled its way into the lives of human beings over thousands of years. When our hunter ancestors were chased by a wild boar, they likely nibbled some cannabis buds afterward to help them forget the trauma, relax, recover, and get up the next day and hit the plains again for another day’s supper. When night fell, the plant encouraged our ancestors to fall into the arms of their loved ones. Women munched the sticky flowers to ease the nausea of pregnancy and to numb and then forget the pain of childbirth so they could repeat the experience and help our species proliferate—a miraculous and evolutionarily strategic benefit, when you stop to think about it.

Once humans settled down and began to farm, cannabis seeds not only fed the animals but also yielded an oil that contains the exact ratio of essential fatty acids needed to help children thrive.¹ The stalks provided fiber that was turned into tents and clothes. Burning the flowers in enclosed structures enabled village elders to create rituals that connected the tribe to higher powers and also helped rival factions relax; after a few minutes of sitting together in the smoky tent, they could more amicably sort out their differences. And the plant found its way into the healers’ medicinal arsenal. Without healing plants, their formulary, their stature, and not to mention their patients, would have disappeared.

The ancient Chinese considered this wild grass one of the fifty fundamental herbs and were the first to write about the medical and spiritual benefits of it, over 4,700 years ago. The father of Chinese medicine, Shen-Nung, used ma to treat a dazzling array of illnesses including gout, rheumatism, malaria, constipation, and absentmindedness. Of the two thousand medicinal plants known in the vast field of Ayurvedic Indian medicine, cannabis is the most important among them.² While members of all these cultures occasionally inhaled cannabis as smoke—presumably to get closer to God—it was most commonly used as a tincture or eaten. The Egyptians used it in suppositories and to relieve eye pain; they buried kings and royalty with pounds of pot, presumably to be presented as a housewarming gift to God once they had moved on to the next life. And the Greeks made wine steeped with cannabis, which they used to treat inflammation and ear problems.

Westerners began to view plant substances with suspicion with the advent of modern Christianity. In its efforts to break the human bond with magic plants on earth and refocus the gaze of its constituents on One God in Heaven, Catholic church elders in the Middle Ages branded plant users pagans, sorcerers, or witches—and reinforced the message through one of the religion’s foundation myths: Adam and Eve were tossed out of Eden for tasting the forbidden fruit. It may have been an apple, but it could just as likely have been another plant, possibly cannabis. No matter. The message was clear: partake of a plant’s pleasures, God will be displeased, and you will be punished. This realignment didn’t extend solely to cannabis, but to all psychoactive plants as well. The Spanish conquistadors massacred hordes of natives in Latin America for using psilocybin, peyote, datura, morning glory, salvia, and ayahuasca, to name but a few.

Europeans remained largely ignorant about cannabis until Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish inventor and physician, went to work in the hospitals of Calcutta in 1839. While there, he developed a fascination with Indian botanical medicines, primary among them a tincture of cannabis indica, also known as hemp oil. O’Shaughnessy was curious about the ways Eastern cultures, in particular those in hot, crowded regions, used botanicals to prevent diseases before they happened and then to treat them once they struck. He did the first animal studies on cannabis and noted that it effectively eased the

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